The Great Revival and the Accompanying Phenomena
The revival of 1800 was one of the most wonderful events of modern times. It appeared more like the sudden conversion of a nation than the regeneration and reformation of individuals. If a traveller had passed through the whole breadth of the settled portions of North America, in 1799, he would have heard the songs of the drunkard, the loud swearing and and obscenity of crowds around taverns, and the bold, blasphemous vaunting of infidels, in every village and hamlet. If he had returned in 1801, he would have heard, instead, the proclamation of the gospel to awed multitudes, earnest prayers in the groves and forests, and songs of praise to God, along all the public thoroughfares. While this wonderful religious awakening spread with great rapidity over the entire country, from the Atlantic coast to the extreme frontier settlements in the Great West, in no other locality was it so deep and powerful as in Kentucky, where the people had been most profane in their every day conversation, and blatant in the coarsest type of infidelity. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
The revival began among the Presbyterians, in Logan county. James McGready was pastor of the Presbyterian churches at Red River, Muddy River and Gasper River, as early as 1796. At that period, there was not a single Baptist church, in all that part of Kentucky, lying south of Salt river, and west of the present line of the Louisville and Nashville railroad, except one at Severns Valley, forty miles south of Louisville. The Presbyterians had the entire control of religious affairs in that large and now populous region of the State.
Mr. McGready was well suited to exercise a powerful influence. With a strong, stentorian voice, he denounced sin in unsparing terms, and exhorted the people with boisterous fervor,
to flee to Christ for refuge from the wrath of a sin-avenging God. As early as May, 1797, there began to be exhibited some religious excitement in Mr. McGready’s congregation on Gasper river. One woman who had been a member of the Presbyterian church, professed to be converted, and a number of others appeared very serious. The interest at Gasper River continued during the summer, but it was confined to a single congregation, and, in the fall entirely disappeared. During that year the Baptists gathered their first two churches in that region of the State, the Head of Muddy River, a few miles from Russellville and Hazle Creek, near the present site of Greenville. But under what circumstances can only be inferred.
In July, 1798, the revival spirit was again manifest at Gasper River, and in the following September, extended to Mr. McGready’s congregations on Muddy and Red Rivers. The religious interest became general in the vicinity of these churches. But, about this time, James Balch, a Presbyterian minister, came into this region, and visited Mr. McGready’s congregations. He "had no sooner arrived, than he commenced opposing the doctrines preached, viz.: Faith, repentance and regeneration. He ridiculed the whole work of the revival, formed a considerable party and involved these young churches in disputation and confusion. In consequence of which the whole work was stopped, and the people sunk back into a state of darkness and deadness.1
This circumstance originated a dispute among the Presbyterians in Kentucky, which soon led to the formation of two parties, known as the Revival and Anti-Revival parties. The dispute continued during the great revival, and for many years afterward, and ultimated in a permanent division of the church. But these things had only an indirect bearing on Baptist history, and may be more properly treated in a subsequent chapter.
The religious excitement was only briefly checked by Mr. Balch's violent opposition. In July, 1799, it returned again with greater power, and in August following, the excitement became so great at Gasper River that the unconverted, under a deep sense of guilt and condemnation, fell from their seats, and
lay helpless on the floor. This was the beginning of the “falling exercise” that prevailed so extensively among the Presbyterians and Methodists during the great revival and for some years afterward. The revival continued to increase in power and extent, till, by the following spring it had reached all parts of Kentucky, then settled, and had spread far southward into Tennessee. All denominations of Christians were now aroused and heartily engaged in promoting the revival. But as it begun among the Presbyterians, at least, so far as history records the facts, we may as well follow its course among that denomination, observing at the same time, that the Methodists united with them most heartily, in all their great meetings, and that the Baptists declined attending, except as spectators. The greatest excitement prevailed, at what they called the sacramental meetings. Here the Presbyterians and Methodists "communed together" while the restricted communion principle held by the Baptists would not have permitted their engaging in these meetings, had they been otherwise disposed to do so. Their principles and polity have usually disposed the Baptists to avoid union meetings, and, during this revival, as at other times, they held their own meetings, and labored in their own quiet, unpretending way. There may have been a few instances in which some of them took part in the great ostentatious meetings, but these occasions, if indeed such occasions occurred at all, were rare, and were exceptions to their general rule of action. The wisdom of their course will be unquestioned, when the history of the great revival and its fruits is studied.
In June, 1800 a sacramental meeting was held at Mr. McGready's church on Red river. Much feeling was manifest on Sunday, under the preaching of John McGee, a Methodist minister. "On Monday, many had such clear and heart piercing views of their sinfulness, and the danger to which they were exposed, that they fell prostrate on the floor, and their cries filled the house. In all quarters, those who had been the most outbreaking sinners, were to be seen lying on the floor unable to help themselves, and anxiously inquiring what they must do to be saved. In a word, persons of all classes and of all ages were to be seen in agonies, and heard crying for redemption in the blood of the Lamb. Twelve precious souls, during the occasion, professed to have passed from death unto; life and many
left the place, pungently convicted of their sin and danger."2
A Camp Meeting was appointed to be held near Gasper River church, in July of the same year. Some families had camped on the ground during the meeting recently held at Red River. This suggested to Mr. McGready the idea of a camp meeting. He immediately had it proclained "far and wide," that such a meeting would be held at Gasper river in Logan county, as specified above. This was, according to Mr. Smith, the "first camp meeting in Christendom." The people came forty, fifty, and even a hundred miles. An immense concourse was in attendance. The people had no tents or cabins erected, as in after years, but slept in their wagons, or under temporary shelters formed of bed covers. The preachers for the occasion were James McGready, William Hodge, and William McGee, all Presbyterians, and perhaps some others. No special interest was noticed, till Saturday evening, when two pious females were conversing together about the state of their souls in a manner that deeply affected some persons standing by. "Instantly the divine flame spread through the whole multitude. Many of the unconverted became so deeply affected that they fell powerless on the ground, and cried aloud for mercy. Ministers and pious Christians passed among them, giving them instructions and encouragement to close with Christ, as he is offered in the gospel. In this way the night was spent, and before Sabbath morning, a goodly number obtained peace and joy in believing. From this time the work continued to advance both day and night, until Tuesday morning, when the meeting closed. The result was, that forty-five precious souls were believed to have passed from a state of nature to a state of grace."3 A few weeks after this, a similar meeting was held at Muddy River church, at which fifty souls professed to have passed from death unto life.
The revival influence now spread rapidly in all directions. Camp meetings were held in rapid succession all over the Green River country, and a large part of Middle and East Tennessee. The same exercises accompanied all these meetings, and the same results followed. The character of the exercises may be further illustrated by Dr. Davidson's description of a scene in one
of the Gasper river meetings, held in 1799, just at the beginning of the revival. While Mr. Hodge was preaching, a woman gave vent to her feelings in loud cries. The people were so wrought upon, that, when they were dismissed, they kept their seats, and wept silently all over the house.
"Such was the state of things when John McGee, the Methodist, rose in his turn to speak. Too much agitated to speak, he expressed his belief that there was a greater than he preaching; and exhorted the people to let the Lord God omnipotent reign in their hearts. Upon this, many broke silence, and the renewed vociferations of the female before mentioned, were tremendous. The Methodist preacher, whose feelings were now wrought up to the highest pitch, after a brief debate in his own mind, came to the conclusion that it was his duty to disregard the usually orderly habits of the [Presbyterian] denomination, and passed along the aisle, shouting and exhorting vehemently. The clamor and confusion were increased ten fold. The flame was blown to its height, screams for mercy were mingled with shout of ecstasy, and an universal agitation pervaded the whole multitude, who were bowed before it as a field of grain waves before the wind. Now followed prayer and exhortation; and the ministers found their strength soon taxed to the utmost to keep pace with the demands of this intense excitement."4
"During the year 1800, ten sacraments were held in the Green River and Cumberland River settlements, all more or less partaking of the nature of those already described, the result of which was that three hundred and forty were added to the churches."5
The camp meetings, which originated with the Presbyterians, soon became immensely popular, and took the name of General Camp Meetings, on account of the Methodists' joining in them with the originators. The Baptists were also invited to join with them, but, as stated above, declined.
In the spring of 1801, Barton W. Stone, pastor of Concord and Cane Ridge Presbyterian churches, in Northern Kentucky, having heard of the great revival among his brethren in the Green River country, visited that region, andattended one of the great camp meetings. On his return, he introduced the new
methods among his own people. Here the camp meetings speedily became more popular, and the exercises more wildly extravagant, if possible, than in the region where they originated. No less than six of these meetings were held, between May and August, varying in continuance from four days to a week, viz.: at Cabin Creek, Concord, Pleasant Point, Indian Creek, and Cane Ridge, in Kentucky, and Eagle Creek, Adams county, Ohio. The scenes witnessed in these meetings, in which children, ten and twelve years of age, were often prominent actors, were similar to those already described. The subjoined description of one of these meetings, given by Dr. Davidson, will suffice to give an idea of how they were conducted. This General Camp-Meeting was held at Cane Ridge, beginning August 6, 1801, and lasted a week. "Cane Ridge was a beautiful spot, in the vicinity of a country church of the same name then under the pastoral care of Mr. Stone, in the county of Bourbon, about seven miles from Paris. It was finely shaded and watered, and admirably adapted to the purpose of an encampment. A great central area was cleared and leveled, 200 or 300 yards in length, with the preachers’ stand at one end, and a spacious tent, capable of containing a large assembly, and designed as a shelter from heat or rain. The adjoining ground was laid off in regular streets, along which the tents were pitched, while the church building was appropriated for the preachers' lodge. The concourse in attendance was prodigious, being computed by a revolutionary officer, who was accustomed to estimate encampments, to amount to not less than 20,000 souls. Mr. Lyle says that, according to the calculation of one of the elders, there were 1,000 communicants present. Others said 800.
"Here were collected all the elements calculated to affect the imagination. The spectacle presented at night was one of the wildest grandeur. The glare of the blazing camp fires falling on a dense assemblage of heads simultaneously bowed in adoration, and reflected back from long ranges of tents upon every side; hundreds of candles and lamps suspended among the trees, together with numerous torches flashing to and fro, throwing an uncertain light upon the tremulous foliage, and giving an appearance of dim and indefinite extent to the depth of the forest; the solemn chanting of hymns swelling and falling on
the night wind; the impassioned exhortations; the earnest prayers, the sobs, shrieks or shouts, bursting from persons under intense agitation of mind; the sudden spasms which seized upon scores, and unexpectedly dashed them to the ground -- all conspired to invest the scene with terrific interest, and to work up the feelings to the highest pitch of excitement."
"When we add to this the lateness of the hour to which the exercises were protracted, sometimes till 2 in the morning, or longer; the eagerness of curiosity, stimulated for so long a time previous-the reverent enthusiasm which ascribed the strange contortions witnessed to the mysterious agency of God -- the fervent and sanguine temper of some of the preachers; and lastly, the boiling zeal of the Methodists, who could not refrain from shouting aloud during sermon, and shaking hands all round afterward, in what Mr. Lyle calls 'a singing ecstasy,' and who did every thing in their power to heap fuel on the fire -- take all this into consideration, and it will abate our suprise very much when informed that the number of persons who fell was computed by the Rev. James Crawford, who endeavored to keep an accurate account, at the astonishing number of about 3,000."6
From this period, the exercises in general camp meetings, which continued to be held jointly by the. Presbyterians and Methodists, gradually degenerated to the close of the revival in 1803. The Falling exercise was supplemented in turn by the Jerks, Rolling, Running, Dancing and Barking exercises, and, finally, by visions and dreams. Dr. Davidson labors to prove that the measures which led to all these strange, and some of them disgusting exercises in public worship, originated from the Methodists. This will hardly be considered just when we remember that the revival commenced under the ministry of James McGready, who lived and died in the Presbyterian church; that he instituted camp meetings, and that he had the sympathy and active co-operation of more than half the Presbyterians of Kentucky. That the Methodists readily adopted the new measures, and fanned the flame, already lighted by Mr. McGready, is certain, but to give them the credit of originating the measures would be unjust, both to them and to Mr. McGready and his faithful co-laborers.
While the strange and unaccountable exercises connected with the revival of 1800, have little direct connection with Baptist history, the general reader cannot but be interested in all the features of so wonderful an upheaval of the whole social fabric of that period. That the revival itself was of divine origin can be no more doubted by spiritual christians, than they can doubt the genuiness of the revival which occurred in Jerusalem on the day of Pentacost. The power with which it suddenly moved the multitudes to repentance for sin, and reformation from immorality, the self-sacrificing zeal with which it stimulated all classes of christians, the suddenness with which it converted multitudes of bold, blaspheming and licentious infidels, to humble, pious, and patient christians, and the speedy, widespread, thorough reformation it wrought in public morals, all attest it to be the work of God. But, as in the olden time when the sons of God came together, Satan also came among them; and during the revival which began on the day of Pentecost, Ananias and Sapphira played the role of artful hypocrites, and Simon, the magician, sought to purchase the gift of God with money; so we may expect the power of the devil to be manifested beside the work of God, and human devices to mimic the pious devotions of saints. So weak and ignorant are men, at their best estate, that it is often difficult, if not impossible, for them to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit. There was much in this revival that benefitted men and honored God, and, doubtless, there were some things connected with it that were spurious and degrading. We have but one standard by which to decide between the good and the evil. The WORD of GOD is given to direct us in all things.
The suddenness with which the revival commenced at various isolated points, almost simultaneously, over a wide and thinly populated territory, and the power with which it suddenly moved individuals and then the masses, was one of its marked features. Within a brief period of a few months, this work began unexpectedly at four different points; near Nashville, Tennessee; and in Logan county, Woodford county, and Carroll county, Kentucky, and at all of them with the same apparently irresistible power. The part that children took in this revival was a new feature, as well as a very remarkable one.
A lad named David McCorde, some eight or ten years old,
professed conversion in the vicinity of Nashville. On meeting a playmate near his own age, he said to him: "Hitherto you and I have been companions, but unless you alter your course, we must be separated hereafter, for I am determined to serve the Lord." The boy was so powerfully affected that he ran home and threw himself on abed in great distress. He expressed a desire to see David McCorde, who was soon brought to his side. The parents of these boys were much amazed to hear them talk, in rapturous language, of the pardon of sin and salvation through Christ, while each wept profusely. The neighbors were notified to collect for a prayer meeting. The people coming together expressed a desire to hear the boys talk. Each, in turn, related, with tears of joy, what God had done; and, in truly evangelical language, expressed his dependence on the righteousness of Christ for salvation. The people were affected deeply, and many in the settlement were converted.7
At a sacramental meeting held near Flemingsburg, Ky., in April, 1800, two little girls cried out in great distress during the preaching. "They both continued for some time praying and crying for mercy, till one of them received a comfortable hope, and then turning to the other, cried out: 'Oh! you little sinner, come to Christ! take hold of his promise! trust in him! he is able to save to the uttermost! Oh! I have found peace to my soul! Oh! the precious Savior! come just as you are, he will take away the stony heart and give you a heart of flesh. You can't make yourself any better just give up your heart to Christ now. You are not a greater sinner than I. You need not wait another moment.' Thus she continued exhorting, until her little companion received a ray from Heaven that produced a sudden and sensible change. Then rising with her in her arms, she cried out in a most affecting manner: ‘Oh! here is another star of light.’ These children were perhaps nine or ten years old." 8
At a general meeting held at Indian Creek, Harrison county, Ky., July 24, 1800, “a boy, from appearance about twelve years old, retired from the stand in time of preaching, under a very extraordinary impression; and having mounted a log, at some distance, and raising his voice, in a very affecting
manner, he attracted the main body of the people, in a few minutes. With tears streaming from his eyes, he cried aloud to the wicked, warning them of their danger, denouncing their certain doom, if they persisted in their sins; expressing his love to their souls, and desire that they should turn to the Lord and be saved. He was held up by two men, and spoke for about an hour, with that convincing eloquence that could be inspired only from above. When his strength seemed quite exhausted, and language failed to describe the feelings of his soul, he raised his hand, and dropping his handkerchief, wet with sweat from his little face, cried out: ‘Thus, O sinner! shall you drop into hell, unless you forsake your sins and turn to the Lord.’ At that moment some fell like those who are shot in battle, and the word spread in a manner which human language cannot describe."9 Scenes like these were of common occurrence in the general camp-meetings, and produced a wonderful effect on those in attendance. It can hardly be regarded a matter of astonishment that the multitudes looked upon such wisdom, boldness, and zeal in children as the fruits of spiritual illumination.
THE FALLING EXERCISE. This very common result of a high state of religious excitement was neither new, nor very strange. It had often occurred under the preaching of Whitfield, Wesley and many others. Men have often fallen down helpless, fainted, and even died, from sudden fits of anger, transports of joy, overwhelming fear, and sudden surprise. Can it be less credible that they should he overcome by a sense of guilt, remorse and danger, suddenly revealed to them by heart-searching preaching and the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit? The first falling that occurred during the great revival, as before observed, was under the ministry of M'Gready and M'Gee, in 1799. From thence it spread rapidly all over Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, and soon became inseparable from all the sacramental meetings."Some fell suddenly, as if struck by lightning, while others were seized with a universal tremor the moment before, and fell shrieking. Piercing shrieks were uttered by many during the whole period of prostration, intermingled with groans, cries for mercy, and exclamations
of 'Glory! glory to God!' In general there was no complaint of pain, but of great weakness, during and after the paroxysms. Women would fall while walking to and from the meeting-house, engaged in narrating past exercises, or drop from their horses on the road. In this condition the subject would lie fifteen minutes to two or three hours; and we are even told of a woman's lying without eating or speaking, for nine days and nights. Some were more or less convulsed, and wrought hard, in frightful nervous agonies, the eyes rolling wildly. But the greater number were quite motionless, as if dead, or about to expire in a few moments. Some were capable of conversing, others were not. During the syncope, and even when conscious, and talking on religious topics, the subject was insensible of pain. Vinegar and hartshorn were applied with no perceptible effects.
"The numbers affected in this singular manner were astonishing. At Cabin Creek camp-meeting, May 22, 1801, so many fell on the third night, that, to prevent their being trodden upon, they were collected together, and laid out in order on two squares of the meeting-house, covering the floor like so many corpses. At Paint Creek sacrament, 200 were supposed to have fallen; at Pleasant Point, 300; but these accounts are beggared by the great meeting at Cane Ridge, August 6, 1801, when 3,000 were computed to have fallen."10
THE JERKING EXERCISE, or, as it was commonly called, the jerks, was not only a singular affection, but was wholly unprecedented. The first recorded instance of this phenominon occurred at a sacrament in east Tennessee, where several hundreds of both sexes were seized with the strange contortion. Like other exercises of the great revival, it was speedily communicated to other similar meetings, and, soon became common in all the great camp-meetings, and finally became a common disorder among all classes of people.
In this strange exercise "the subject was instantaneously seized with spasms or convulsions in every muscle, nerve and tendon. His head was jerked or thrown from side to side, with such rapidity, that it was impossible to distinguish his visage, and the most lively fears were entertained lest he should dislocate
his neck, or dash out his brains. His body partook of the same impulse, and was hurried on by like jerks, over every obstacle, fallen trunks of trees, or in a church, over pews and benches, apparently to the most imminent danger ofbeing bruised and mangled. It was useless to attempt to restrain or hold him, and the paroxysm was permitted gradually to exhaust itself.11
The most graphic description of "the jerks" that has appeared in print was written by Richard McNemar, an eminent Presbyterian preacher who was both an eye witness and an apologist. He says: "Nothing in nature could better represent this strange and unaccountable operation, than for one to goad another, alternately on every side, with a piece of red hot iron. The exercise commonly began in the head, which would fly backward and forward, and from side to side, with a quick jolt, which the person would naturally labor to suppress, but in vain. The more one labored to stay himself, and be sober, the more he staggered, and the more his twitches increased. He must necessarily, go as he was stimulated, whether with a violent dash on the ground, and bounce from place to place like a football, or hop around with head, limbs and trunk twitching and jolting in every direction, as if they must inevitably fly asunder. How such could escape without injury, was no small wonder to spectators. By this strange operation, the human frame was so transformed and disfigured, as to lose every trace of its natural appearance. Sometimes the head would be twitched right and left to a half round, with such velocity that not a feature could be discovered, but the face appeared as much behind as before. In the quick, progressive jerk, it would seem as if the person was transformed into some other species of creature. Headdresses were of little account among female jerkers. Even handkerchiefs bound around the head, would be flirted off almost with the first twitch, and the hair put into the utmost confusion. This was a great inconvenience, to redress which the generality were shorn, though directly contrary to their confession of faith. Such as were seized with the jerks, were wrested at once, not only from under their own government, but that of every one else, so that it was dangerous to attempt confining
them, or touching them in any manner, to whatever danger they were exposed; yet few were hurt, except it was such as rebelled against the operation, through willful and deliberate enmity, and refused to comply with the injunctions which it came to enforce."12
That this exercise was involuntary and irresistible, there is abundant evidence in the writers of the period, Benedict says: "At first it was experienced only by those under religious concern, but in the end it became a nervous affection, which was sympathetically, communicated from one to another.
"A Presbyterian minister heard that a congregation of his brethren which he highly esteemed, had got to jerking. He went to persuade them out of the frantic exercise, but in conversing with them, he got the jerks himself. On his return home, his people assembled to hear the result of his visit. While he was describing how people appeared with the jerks, he was suddenly taken with them, and the whole assembly soon caught the distemper.
"Wicked men were often taken with these strange exercises, and many would curse the jerks, while they were under their singular operation. Some were taken at the tavern with a glass of liquor in their hands, which they would suddenly toss over their heads, or to a distant part of the room. Others were taken with them at the card table, and at other places of dissipation, and would by a violent and unaffected jerk, throw a handful of cards all over the room."13
THE ROLLING EXERCISE was only another form of the nervous disorder, called "the jerks." It consisted in falling on the ground or floor, and rolling over like a log, very swiftly. Dust, mud or water formed no barrier to the movement. The subject continued to move in the same direction until the spasm exhausted itself, or some immovable obstruction stopped his progress. He sometimes got up much in the plight that the swine comes from his wallowing in the mire.
THE RUNNING EXERCISE was another species of the same disorder. The excited subject started with his nerves strung up to high tension, and ran with preternatural swiftness till his strength was entirely exhausted. He then fell down and lay till
he recovered strength to get up and return to the place of worship, or make his way home.
THE DANCING EXERCISE: Dr. Peck, who was a dispassionate observer of religious affairs in the west, thinks that this exercise was originally a form of the jerks. It was introduced after, rather than during the revival. The first instance recorded was at Turtle Creek on the occasion of a sacramental meeting of the Newlights, in the spring of 1804. Rev. John Thompson, one of the ministers of the Springfield Presbytery, commenced dancing around the stand at the close of the meeting, and continued about an hour, repeating all the while, in a low tone, “This is the Holy Ghost! Glory!” During the following winter and spring, it became a common religious exercise, and was enuraged among the Newlights, as an appropriate method of worship. They encouraged each other "to praise God in the dance," and quoted the example of David dancing before the Ark. The dancing was performed by a gentle and not ungraceful motion, to a lively tune, but with little variation of step. As all classes of the worshippers engaged in the dance when they felt the impulse orinclination to do so, it was often performed very ludicrously. But if this form of public worship began among the Newlights, who had recently seceded from the Presbyterian church, it was not confined to that schism. "A writer in the Biblical Repertory," says Dr. Davidson, “states that, during the administration of the Lord's Supper in the presence of the Synod of Virginia, he witnessed a young woman performing this exercise for about the space of half-an-hour. The pew in which she had been sitting had been cleared and she danced in the vacant space from one end to the other, her eyes being closed and her countenance calm. At the close of the halfhour, she fell, and was agitated with more violent emotions. He saw another whose motions, instead of being lateral, consisted in jumping up and down." Mr. Lyle saw several women leaping most nimbly, at Point Pleasant, in 1803, and a young girl who sprang, a dozen times, near two feet high. The dancing exercise seems to have soon fallen into disrepute, even among the enthusiastic Newlights. A considerable number of these enthusiasts soon joined the Shakers, among whom dancing still continues to be a prominent exercise in public worship.
THE BARKING EXERCISE, or the barks, as it was commonly
called, was the most ludicrous of all the strange contortions that accompanied camp-meetings during the great revival. The exercises frequently accompanied the jerks, and Dr. Peck reckons it a form of that nervous distemper. "The exercise consisted in the individual taking the position of a dog, moving on all-fours, growling, snapping the teeth, and barking, with such exact imitation as to deceive any one whose eyes were not directed to the spot. The persons affected were not always of the humblest or most vulgar classes; but persons of the highest rank in society; of cultivated minds and polite manners, found themselves involuntarily reduced to this mortifying situation."14 "A worthy old Presbyterian minister, in East Tennessee, retired from the meeting-place to the woods for private devotion, when he was seized with jerking spasms. He caught hold of a sapling to avoid falling, and as his head jerked back, he uttered sounds. He was seen in this position by a mischievous wag who reported he was barking up a tree."15 "A minister in the lower part of Kentucky," says Dr. Benedict, "informed me that it was common to hear people barking like a flock of Spaniels, on their way to meeting. There they would start up suddenly in a fit of barking, rush out, roam around, and in a short time come barking and foaming back."16
"The only method of securing relief from this wretched condition," says Dr. Davidson, "was to engage in the voluntary dance, and the opinion became prevalent that it was inflicted as a chastisement for remissness of duty, and as a provocative of zeal. Such as resisted the impulse, and declined the dancing, continued to be tormented for months, and even years. From being regarded as marks of guilt, the barks at last assumed the dignity of tokens of Divine power, and badges of special honor. Ludicrous as it may seem to us, at this distance of time, to hear of such extraordinary sounds as 'bow, wow, wow,' interspersed with pious ejaculations, and quotations of scripture, as 'every knee shall bow-wow-wow, and every tongue shall confess,' we are not at liberty to doubt the truth of the assertion, that then the effect, or at least one of the effects, was to over-awe the wicked and excite fearful apprehensions in the minds of the impious. It is easily conceivable that the dread of being reduced
to this humiliating condition would check any disposition to indulge in ridicule."17
THE LAUGHING EXERCISE: This has been of such frequent recurrence that it need not be described. Most persons who attend revival meetings among the methodists have been eyewitnesses of this mode of expressing religious joy. It was confined to religious people, and like the various exercises described above, was at least in many cases, irresistible. As witnessed by the writer of these pages, in several different congregations, as late as 1852, there was nothing in it offensive to the most grave and serious worshipper. In these cases there was an indefinable peculiarity about it that inspired seriousness and awe, rather than levity. It was confined to young converts, at least in a great measure. In audible expression, it was soft, gentle, and monotonous. It exhibited no indications of excitement, except that of gently enrapturing love. However indecorous it may seem to such as only hear of it, there was nothing displeasing in it to those who witnessed it, except that it attracted attention from the preaching. There was nothing in it, kindred, to the boisterous haw! haw! that is sometimes heard at the present, in exciting revival meetings among the Methodists.
This exercise commenced rather early in the great revival. Dr. Davidson says: "Hysterical laughter was at first sporadic, but in 1803, we find the 'Holy Laugh,' introduced systematically as apart of worship. While Mr. Findley was preaching a lively sermon at Silver Creek Sacrament, in June of that year, the people, at some sentences, laughed aloud.Sometimes half the professors of religion laughed in this way, appearing all the time solemn and devout."18
VISIONS AND TRANCES were concomitants of camp-meetings, during the great revival. They occurred sometimes in night dreams, sometimes in daylight-ecstacies, and oftner during the unconscious state which succeeded the falling exercise. The visions were of various characters. Sometimes they exhibited to the entranced spirit, or dreamer, the dreadful doom of the lost, sometimes he was transported to Heaven, where he saw, and talked with, departed friends, and even received messages from them to the living. Sometimes the visions partook of the prophetic character, and the dreamer would be able to
predict the results of an impending meeting, as who would preach, who would fall, who would be converted, and other particulars. Some of the dreams were very beautiful. One woman walked on the tops of the trees, another had a vision of Heaven, with a small door; one man saw a glorious mountain, covered with trees having silver-tipped foliage. He thought the mountain led to God and Heaven. Above it he saw a great dazzling light, and sighed and sank before it as the great All in all. They had much confidence in their dreams, and either interpreted them themselves, or sought out persons whom they deemed more skillful in solving such mysteries.
Much injury was inflicted on the cause of Christ by encouraging confidence in these dreams, visions, trances and impressions, by some of the ministers who were leaders in the sacramental meetings and camp meetings, especially those who afterwards went off with the Newlight schism. It diverted popular attention from the Bible, which must always be the sole standard of truth among intelligent christians, and fostered a fondness for those mysticisms, superstitions and novelties, so congenial, and yet so degrading to fallen men. The departures from the Bible teaching was very rapid, and the adoption of delusive speculations, correspondingly accelerated. As the great revival among the Presbyterians and Methodists degenerated into a misguided and corrupting enthusiasm, some strong, brave men exerted all their powers to stay the swelling tide that was sweeping away their bulwarks of safety, but all in vain. The demon they had unconsciously aided in evoking was too strong for them. The tide was with the enthusiasts, and the opposers were overwhelmed, and temporarily, at least, brought into popular contempt. With the close of the year 1803, the revival may be said to have subsided. The Methodists, who "were freely admitted" to the general meetings of the Presbyterians, early in the revival, “from assistants, became leaders,"19 rode on the tide, or rather headed it, had their number greatly increased -- probably doubled, while the Presbyterian church, which received the first fruits of the revival, but opposed its excesses, perhaps injudiciously, was well nigh in ruins. The particulars ofthis disaster, and some of its more permanent results, must be reserved for another chapter. ______________
1 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, pp. 567, 568. 2 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, pp. 571, 572. 3 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, pp. 574, 575. 4 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, p. 134. 5 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, p. 135. 6 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, pp. 137-138. 7 Rev. J. M. Peck, D.D., in Christian Review, Vol. XVII, p. 503. 8 Western Miscellany, Vol. I, p. 275. 9 Western Miscellany, Vol. I, p. 278. 10 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, p. 143, et. seq. 11 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, pp. 145, 146. 12 McNemar, pp. 51, 52. Quoted by many authors. 13 History Baptists, Vol. II, p. 255. 14 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, p. 152. 15 Christian Review, Vol. XVII, p. 503. 16 History of Bap., Vol. II, p. 256. 17 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, p. 152. 18 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, p. 157. 19 Smith's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, p. 141. ==================
[John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; rpt. CHR&A, 1984.]
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